I'm a firm believer in the two days on, one day off approach to Disney World planning. After two days in the park, my family needs a day to sleep in, chill out and generally relax. But that doesn't mean we spend our off-days staring at the walls of the hotel room. Off days usually mean some low-key entertainment and a nice dinner.
My favorite location to stay in Disney World is Disney's BoardWalk. This area is adjacent to seven resorts – Disney's Boardwalk Inn and Villas, Disney's Beach Club and Villas, Disney's Yacht Club, and the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, and it's located within walking distance of both Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Set on Crescent Lake, Disney's BoardWalk has the look of a turn-of-the-century Atlantic City boardwalk. I love arriving at Disney World in the morning and enjoying lunch on the water to make me really feel like I'm on vacation. With Disney's typical attention to detail, the BoardWalk provides not only entertainment but lots of wonderful photo ops, day and night.
Editor's Note: Check out this post from Katrina on capturing photos in low light.
The actual BoardWalk runs for a quarter mile in front of Disney's BoardWalk Inn and includes shops, midway games, entertainers, nightlife and restaurants.
My family's favorite part of Disney's BoardWalk is definitely the live entertainment. Entertainers can vary but include musicians, jugglers, acrobats and a magician. My son is a huge fan of the magician and has often participated in the show. The one catch is that the entertainment is only available on Thursday-Saturday nights from 6:30pm to 10:30pm. We often stop to see the shows on our way back from Epcot. In the event of rain, you can often find the magician in the lobby of the BoardWalk Inn.
If you're a sports fan, the ESPN Club provides a fun break. This is a typical sports-themed restaurant with plenty of television screens, video games and interactive sporting games. The ESPN Club is also equipped with a television and radio broadcast booth that supports many popular ESPN shows and sometimes features live interviews with sports celebrities. During one of our trips, the BoardWalk was actually hosting a college football awards show.
The BoardWalk also includes some adult nightlife. Jellyrolls is a dueling piano bar, open from 7pm to 2am. Guests must be 21 and over and there is a $10 cover charge. The Atlantic Dance Hall calls to mind the dancing of an older era, but it's really a nightclub with a DJ that plays songs from the '80s, '90s and today. The Dance Hall is open from 9pm to 2am Tuesday through Saturday. Guests must be 21 and over but there is no cover charge. During low-crowd periods on weeknights, these venues can be pretty quiet, though the ESPN Club can get quite crowded during sporting events.
The BoardWalk has a variety of options for shopping. The Screen Door General Store is a typical resort shop including gifts, sundries and groceries. Disney's Character Carnival has golf apparel and accessories. Thimbles and Threads has clothing and Disney character toys. Wyland Galleries features marine life art. The Yard, next to the ESPN Club, has ESPN merchandise. There is also a Pin Station for Disney pin collectors.
The BoardWalk has four table-service restaurants: ESPN Club, Big River Grille & Brewing Works, Flying Fish Cafe and Cat Cora's Kouzzina. Flying Fish Cafe is, hands-down, our favorite Disney World restaurant, but I also love just sitting outside at Big River Grille for a leisurely lunch. A Disney trip can be fast-paced and over-stimulating and this seashore retreat can be a great reminder to relax and enjoy our vacation.
For a lighter snack or a sweet treat, the BoardWalk also includes:
- Boardwalk Bakery,
- BoardWalk Joe's Marvelous Margaritas,
- Seashore Sweets,
- a Funnel Cake Cart, and
- the Pizza Window.
Note: Kouzzina will be closing at the end of September; no word yet on what will replace it.
One of my favorite places on the BoardWalk is the old-time photo booth. There's a fun aspect to the photo booth experience that just can't be replicated on a phone app.
Other entertainments on the BoardWalk includes caricature artists, midway games and Surrey bike rentals. At night you can even see the fireworks from Illuminations from this area.
If you're really interested in the history, art work and architecture of the BoardWalk, try the BoardWalk Ballyhoo Guided Tour. This tour runs every Wednesday through Saturday for 45 minutes, starting at 9am. The tour is free; just check in at the BoardWalk Inn's Belle Vue Lounge by 8:45am.
Around the BoardWalk
The wooden Boardwalk itself is anchored by the ESPN Club and The Atlantic Dance Hall. However, the path continues in a circle around Crescent Lake, making it easy to enjoy the themes, shopping, restaurants and entertainments of the other resorts.
If you continue walking past the ESPN Club, counter-clockwise around the lake, you'll find the path that leads to Epcot's International Gateway.
Keep walking around the lake and you'll find a sandy beach in front of Disney's Beach Club resort. Check the resort activities flyer for specific activities, but this beach is often host to volleyball, campfire sing-alongs or Movies Under the Stars. Note: Swimming in Crescent Lake is prohibited.
While you're at the Beach Club, don't forget to stop and enjoy a giant ice cream sundae at the Beaches & Cream Soda Shop.
Continue further and you'll come to Disney's Yacht Club resort and the Bayside Marina.
Here you can rent motorboats, rent bicycles and arrange fishing excursions. The Bayside Marina is also the starting location of the Albatross Treasure Cruise, one of four pirate adventure cruises for kids ages 4-10. This cruise can be booked in advance at 407-WDW-PLAY.
Continue walking counter-clockwise around the lake and you'll come back to the Atlantic Dance Hall and the other end of the BoardWalk. Take the path around and behind the Dance Hall and you'll find the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resorts, as well as the path to Disney's Hollywood Studios.
If you walk to Hollywood Studios early in the morning you'll often see people fishing in the canal. My son really wanted to try this, so on one of our off-days my parents brought their fishing poles. Unfortunately, we went rather late in the day and nothing was biting, but my son still loves to talk about the time he went fishing with his Pap at Disney World.
I should also mention that the Disney Friendship Boats circle through this area. It is almost always faster to walk around the lake and to the parks than it is to take the boat. However, if you're not in a hurry or if you've just ended a busy day in the parks, the boat ride can be quite relaxing.
The Friendship Boats run from outside Epcot's International Gateway to Disney's BoardWalk resort to Disney's Yacht and Beach Club resorts to WDW Swan and Dolphin resorts to Disney's Hollywood Studios. Then it runs back to WDW Swan and Dolphin, Yacht and Beach Club, BoardWalk and Epcot.
Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf
If you want to venture a little farther, but still within walking distance, Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf is located across the street from the Walt Disney World Swan hotel. This venue has two 18-hole courses. The Fantasia Gardens course is designed for families and includes 5 scenes from the movie. If you haven't seen Fantasia, or if it's been a long time, I highly recommend watching it before you go. The course is filled with lots of fun little details from the film.
The Fantasia Fairways course is designed to look like a traditional golf course, only smaller, and requires more skill. This course includes sand traps, water hazards and sloping greens. Fantasia Gardens and Fairways is open 10am to 11pm, seven days a week. Telephone reservations are not accepted. Annual Passholder's currently receive a 50% discount.
Christmas on the BoardWalk
If you're going to Disney World for the Christmas holiday, plan to spend extra time exploring the resorts around the BoardWalk. Displays can vary from year to year, but in recent years the BoardWalk Inn has had a life-size gingerbread house.
Beach Club resort has had a giant chocolate carousel display.
And the Yacht Club has had a miniature train display with lots of Disney details.
If you're a pin collector, there are sometimes limited edition pins available to commemorate these displays.
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resort also has numerous holiday displays and events, including classic Christmas movies, a nightly tree lighting and pictures with Santa Claus.
There are, of course, unlimited options in Walt Disney World for spending a day outside the parks – hanging at the pool, exploring themed resorts, shopping and entertainment at Downtown Disney, just to name a few. See more ideas from Beth's post, Capturing Magic Outside the Theme Parks and share with us your favorite ideas for relaxing and spending time outside the parks at Disney World.